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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > September 2013 > Traffic Stops (Marked Lane Violations): The Cases of Muller, Thomas, Parker, and Shaffer

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Traffic Stops (Marked Lane Violations): The Cases of Muller, Thomas, Parker, and Shaffer

Question: When do you have reasonable, articulable suspicion to pull someone over for a marked lane violation?
Quick Answer: When a vehicle crosses a marked lane for reasons other than safety, you are able to pull someone over for a marked lane violation.

State of Ohio v. Muller,  Fifth Appellate District, Delaware County, July 29, 2013
State of Ohio v. Thomas, Twelfth Appellate District, Warren County, Aug. 5, 2013
State of Ohio v. Parker, Sixth Appellate District, Ottawa County, Aug. 9, 2013
State of Ohio v. Shaffer, Third Appellate District, Paulding County, Aug. 19, 2013
Each of these cases deals with a traffic stop under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 4511.33(A)(1) for a marked lane violation that led to arrest on other criminal violations. In general, the law requires drivers to stay, as much as possible, within a single lane and to not move from their lane without first making sure it’s safe to do so.
Muller: A trooper watched Eugene Muller drive 10 miles under the speed limit and stated that he saw the car cross over the right white fog line by two to three tire widths. The court reviewed the footage from the dash camera and found that as Muller rounded a curve to the right, the right rear tire completely crossed the white fog line by one tire width. The court found that based on a totality of the circumstances, the trooper had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop Muller and upheld the OVI.
Thomas: A deputy saw Winston Thomas’ vehicle slow down quickly, almost causing a collision, then drift over the marked center line and back into its original lane. Based on a totality of the circumstances, the deputy had reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop Thomas. Once the stop was made, drugs were found in the vehicle.
Parker: A trooper noticed a vehicle weaving several times inside the lane and pulled Matthew Parker over on a marked lane violation. At trial, the trooper testified that a marked lane violation generally occurred when a vehicle crossed a designated line on a roadway. After reviewing the dash camera footage, the court noted that Parker drove on the line a few times, but never crossed it; as a result, the trooper did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop Parker.
Shaffer: A trooper pulled Kimberly Shaffer over after her passenger side tire drove onto and over the white fog line once for three seconds. The court looked at the language “as nearly as is practicable,” concluding that the statute doesn’t preclude all movement from the lane. For example, movement can be made to avoid debris or to initiate a safe lane change. It determined that without additional evidence of the surrounding circumstances, traffic, and road conditions, the act of Shaffer driving onto the white fog line one time for three seconds was not sufficient to establish reasonable and articulable suspicion. The court did not find the vehicle had gone over the line. The court also stated it would not adopt the “tire-rule” approach from the 11th District.
Importance: These four cases highlight four different courts’ views. Each came to the same conclusion on the law: The car MUST cross the line for a reason other than safety to be a proper marked lane violation. What that means: If a car merely drives on the line, near the line, or crosses over the line safely, there is no violation. What you are looking for is evidence that the driver is distracted, impaired, or driving recklessly. That could be weaving repeatedly over the line, crossing the center line when there is no one to pass, or driving way over the fog line. This is important because if you don’t pull someone over correctly, the remainder of the criminal actions may be thrown out. In half of these cases, the courts said the officers didn’t have enough cause to pull the drivers over. So in those two cases, drunk drivers may have gotten off. Remember, small mistakes can lead to huge consequences.
Keep in Mind: When a court and attorneys get ahold of your report, dash cam, and interview, everything will come down to those few moments on the road when you made the decision to pull someone over. There is nothing like putting less than five minutes of your life under a microscope for attorneys and the court to tear apart. A court’s job is to look at the facts of your case, look at the law, and determine if under your facts, the law was violated. And while different courts can come to different decisions based on similar facts, you can minimize the possibility of getting evidence suppressed by knowing the law cold.
More on Vehicle Stops
Wait here. I’m going to get my drug-sniffing dog: You pull over a van, and the driver and passenger give you conflicting stories. They are traveling across state lines, seem nervous during questioning, and have air fresheners hanging in the back of the van. Do you have articulable suspicion to request a K-9 unit to do a walk-around? Yes. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the car may be detained for a reasonable time to perform the K-9 walk-around. In the Thomas case, Deputy Brian Lewis was in the process of investigating the traffic violation when the K-9 unit was called in to perform the walk-around. The circumstances of the stop gave Lewis articulable suspicion to permit the continuance of the traffic stop long enough for the K-9 unit to arrive and perform the walk-around. State of Ohio v. Thomas, Twelfth Appellate District, Warren County, Aug. 5, 2013
Fidgety driver + past arrest record + reasonable individualized suspicion = bag of heroin: You pull a suspect over who seems to be manipulating something around his leg, under his pants. You also know the suspect has a past arrest record and seems nervous during the stop. Can you ask him to get out of the vehicle for a pat-down? Yes. In Tritt, the court found that Officer Mark Orick of the Dayton Police Department had a reasonable individualized suspicion that the suspect was armed and dangerous and was justified in asking him to exit the vehicle and perform a pat-down, resulting in the discovery of heroin. State of Ohio v. Tritt, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Aug. 23, 2013.